Tag Archives: chick lit

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Four-hundred-and-seventy-three pages, Europa Editions.

story-of-the-lost-child-cover-241The Story of the Lost Child is the fourth and final installment of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan chronicles recounting the story of Elena and Lina. Reading the book is like cliff-diving off a high cliff and crashing on the rocks below. It’s a sad ending to a glorious story.

I’m not going to spoil the book for you, but the two protagonists become pregnant and raise their children in the old neighbourhood. One of the two protagonists literally loses her child and begins a slow decent into instability if not madness. A lot of ink is taken up summing up of all the characters and where they’re at in their lives when the book ends in 2006. Lina and Elena are in their 60s, as are the majority of the cast of characters who make up the novel.

Elena is a success but she’s crushed by depression, never becoming the confidant person she could have been. She feels that her career has been marred by that. Elena is a success but she’s consumed by self doubt. Lina too, becomes a success but eventually implodes. Lina disappears, we know that in the first pages of the first novel. Here, we get an inkling as to why; she may have been murdered or simply decided to vanish of her own free will. Not knowing why she’s gone missing is an unsatisfying aspect of the novel.

The series has been a stellar trip about the lives of two remarkable women and the people in their lives. However, the ending is a sad ending to an otherwise at times shocking and always eventful series. I expect characters in their 60s to have misgivings, joys and regrets but Elena and especially Lina, loomed larger than life and their senior years are just plain dull.


Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein.

Four-hundred and eighteen pages. Europa Editions.

9781609452339Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay reads like a soap opera. You know the entire cast of characters; new and fleeting ones are introduced and they get themselves into dangerous, sad and fascinating situations. You know they’ll get out of the mess they’re in but you don’t know how, so you keep reading.

The third in the four-book Neapolitan series is definitely not pulp fiction, yet it contains lurid and sensational subject matter and its narrative is operatic in scope. The main characters Lina and Elena alone would be comfortable in a Jackie Collins novel; not to mention the characters that surround them. In fact, that may be the broad appeal of the series.

The characters are so richly described and the writing so evocative, that the book is more than typical chick lit about women’s relationships. Ferrante’s talented writing elevates Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay from a light fluffy read at the cottage to literary prose.

The third book becomes more about Elena and how she asserts herself as a person and as a writer, while Lila spins down into a horrible abyss before climbing back up. Characters from the previous two books come together. There’s a reversal of fortune.  At this point, I could give you a synopsis of the novel but I won’t. I didn’t have a clue as to what would happen on these pages and I want to give you the same pleasure.

However, I will tell you that what Lila and Elena go through is almost symbolic of the cultural and social changes that take place in Italy during the late 1960s and 70s, the period the book is set in.

It’s a great read but a thick read at 418 pages. Enjoy.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Europa Editions, four hundred and seventy one pages (translated by Ann Goldstein).

51w00tgvxtl-_sx320_bo1204203200_The Story of a New Name is so addictive; you can’t put it down. This is the second installment in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan chronicles. It’s so much better than the first, My Brilliant Friend. The novel starts where the first one ends – at Lina’s wedding, when she discovers her new husband has already betrayed her.

The soap opera list of characters already established, Ferrante is able to dive into the action in a way the first novel lacks. There’s much less set-up and character back-stories. Ferrante gets right to it and so much actually happens to her beloved duo of Lina and Elena. Lina’s honeymoon is a horror and her newly-wed life never really amounts to more than that. Elena finds success and a somewhat dubious mate.

A good chunk of the novel takes place at the beach where Lina and Elena spend the summer in the hopes of Lina becoming pregnant during one of Stefano’s visits. Plenty of actual sex and thinking about sex takes place at the beach. Lina takes a lover and in a fit of jealousy, Elena decides she’s done with being a virgin and does something drastic and terrible. Elena seems to be suffocating in Lina’s shadow. She believes Lina is sophisticated and intelligent but the ignorance and naiveté of both girls is at times frightening.

Since Elena is narrating the story, and she is infatuated, if not actually in love with Lina, much of the grandiose story-telling is centered around Lina while Elena’s tale is more sombre. This is clearly how Elena sees her own life. She says she’s happy but Elena is unable to tear herself away from Lina, even when Lina appears to implode. Lina is the proverbial traffic accident and Elena is the rubber-necker who can’t move along and eventually gets involved in the accident.

That makes me a voyeur and a speed-reader.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

Three-hundred-thirty-one pages, published by Europa Editions


brilliant-friendI kept walking past this book at Chapters and picking it up to scan. I was taken by the title and  intrigued by the synopsis. I was going to make it my book club pick when another member beat me to it.

All the online reviews call it a masterpiece. I think the publisher called it that and everyone jumped on board. While it’s definitely an excellent read and worth savoring some carefully crafted passages, I would say “masterpiece” is an indulgence. Having said that, once you pass the mid-point of the novel, the first of a trilogy, you’ll have trouble putting it down until you’ve finished it. But first, you have to get there.

The first half is slow and explanative, building each character’s profile and motivation. There’s a reason there’s a cast of characters listed at the front of the book, it reads like a soap opera. You must keep track of everyone, who they’re related to and whom they like.

The book opens when the two main characters are in their 60s. Elena receives a phone call informing her Lila appears to have gone missing on purpose. The narrator Elena, now a successful author, recounts their story. Elena and Lilia are two poor young girls growing up in dirty and brutal Naples in the 1950s. They form an unlikely bond that ebbs and flows. They grow up, the world around them changes and they’re forced into separate pursuits. Theirs is a pseudo-friendship based at times on jealousy, love, admiration, necessity and rivalry. In other words, it’s complicated.

The first novel (and I haven’t read the other three) begins before the girls are school-age and already daring each other and using violence in their endeavours and ends at the teenage wedding of one. Lilia is beautiful, brilliant and creative. She’s envied. Her intelligence surpasses that of her classmates but she’s denied an education. Short and plump Elena is smart but works hard to be Lila’s equal, yet real opportunity never befalls Lilia the way it does Elena.

Boys and relationships with them take centre stage as the girls mature. Elena and Lilia measure their intellect against them and seek to be with them as a sign of their success and popularity. Lila uses her will and talent to try to design a way out of her lot. Just when it seems she’ll be victorious, it all comes crashing down on the day that’s supposed to be one of her happiest.

Ferrante made me feel the betrayal and stinging rage Lila feels in the final pages. Her words are prose. However, from time to time, the translation from Italian was wordy and sentence structures convoluted. The book ends on a cliff hanger that makes you want to pick up the next book in the series.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go Bernadette by By Maria Semple.

Three-hundred-and-thrity pages, Little, Brown and Company.

bernadetteBernadette Fox is someone I’d love to know. She’s the main character in the novel and she’s original, creative, sarcastic, edgy and a little crazy. I just wouldn’t want to be her.

We meet Bernadette as the doting but eccentric mother to impressionable young Bee, a 15 year-old girl attending a tony private school in Seattle. Bernadette doesn’t get along with the other moms who she calls gnats, is a semi-recluse and the wife of a Microsoft star. She spends her days writing in a Gulfstream trailer parked outside her house while her partner climbs to greatness.

When Bernadette promises Bee a trip to Antarctica if she brings home a straight A report card, Bernadette never imagines her daughter could pull it off. She does and the quirky, unorthodox planning, which involves a virtual assistant in India, ensues. But before the epic trip to Antarctica can take place, Bernadette mysteriously disappears and we wonder if she’ll ever return.

Bee’s obsessive search for her mother takes her and her father to the end of the world and back. Much of the book rests on the mother-daughter relationship and unconditional love. You’re more than halfway through the book before you discover Bernadette’s genius and what began her toying with madness.

The droll, laugh-out-loud and at times serious story is told in emails, letters and FBI correspondence among other formats. Author Maria Semple evokes the wit and sarcasm of comedian Ellen De Generes and that’s no surprise since she’s a former writer for the TV show, Ellen, staring De Generes. Semple sends up the Subaru-driving, over-achieving, environmentally-concerned, politically correct, status conscious suburban moms of Seattle to the point of caricature.

I couldn’t put this one down folks. It’s a compulsive read.

Book Review, The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Indian-American author Thrity Umrigar’s The World We Found does for middle-age women what The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants did for teenage girls – use powerful experiences to create ageless friendships. Umrigrar has taken chick lit and steeped it in a potent brew.

world-we-foundThe novel is about how the dying wish of one woman leads to secrets exposed, acknowledging present disappointments and ultimately betrayal.  Armaiti is the character whom the story is centered around. She’s a transplanted Indian who left her country for post-grad studies in the States, ends up marrying locally and builds a life stateside. Her sudden grim prognosis moves her to contact her old college girlfriends back in India, who she hasn’t seen in 30 years, and ask them to visit her. It’s an unlikely beginning but Umrigar’s capable story telling makes it believable.

However, my book club pretty much agreed that we were left not understanding some of the actions and motivations of the leading characters – Armaiti and her gal pals Laleh, Nishta and Kavita. One married rich, betraying the socialist cause they once fought for, another leads a secret life, while the third is lead into an ultra-conservative Muslim existence.

The book is about the journey of overcoming 20 years of separateness and reconciling with choices made in life, rather than a grand reunion. In this book, Umrigar’s story telling is greater than her character building. If strong character development is your preference, then Umrigar’s The Space Between Us is for you.